From education to employment

Businesses across the country are being urged to introduce a life-changing free home improvement scheme for young care leavers.

‘Helping Hands’ was launched in 2019 by EQUANS (@EQUANS_UK), the new brand for global energy company ENGIE’s regeneration and services-led activities, and the Care Leaver Covenant.

It has already transformed the homes of 62 young care leavers across England, helping them to live independently.

Now, in the run-up to National Care Leavers’ Week 2021 (October 25 to 31), more companies are being urged to introduce a ‘Helping Hands’ scheme.

Through the initiative, EQUANS’ staff refurbish care leavers’ homes free of charge. Services they provide include painting and decorating; garden clearance; joinery, plastering; plumbing; electrical; floor laying and the use of a van with a driver/crew for moving home.

The ‘Helping Hands’ programme began with a pilot with Leeds City Council in January 2019 and now operates in Birmingham, Wakefield, Manchester, Rotherham, London and Norfolk, with plans to roll out the scheme to more areas in the future. Work

EQUANS started providing the offer as part of their commitment to support care leavers after signing up to the Care Leaver Covenant in October 2018.

There are around 70,000 young people in care in the UK and approximately 10,000 leave care each year, becoming care leavers.

The success of the Helping Hand pilot led to EQUANS Social Value Manager Claire Preston being awarded ‘Sector Based Champion’ by the Department for Education, one of only four in the UK – and the only one in construction.

EQUANS Social Value Manager Claire Preston said:

“Young people who have left care need some practical support to set up home as they have no family network to call on and this is where we step in.

“We employ our own trades people and this is just the right thing to do. A team of our staff – including painters and decorators, joiners, plumbers, plasterers, floor layers, electricians as well as other office and site-based staff – carry out the work.  

“They do this as part of the volunteering commitment that EQUANS offers during working hours, to allow staff to give back to the community.

“All our staff who volunteer their time feel proud knowing they are making a big difference to someone’s life.

“Work had to stop for the most part of last year due to the pandemic so to have now completed 62 Helping Hands projects is amazing.

“I would strongly encourage more construction and maintenance companies to offer something similar to Helping Hands. The more businesses that do this, the bigger impact it will have across the country.”

EQUANS staff helped Luke, 22, who bought his own property in Stockport after dreaming of owning his own place for 10 years.

Luke grew up in foster care from the age of 14 to 18, spending time with 30 different carers.

He now works full time for Rolls Royce as a cyber security analyst and is also four years into a six-year mechanical nuclear engineering degree at the University of Manchester.

EQUANS organised a plumber to install Luke’s dishwasher and washing machine; arranged two volunteers at short notice to provide a van with a driver to transport his belongings to his new home and painted his house.

Luke said:

“Helping Hands is gold dust. Moving furniture and painting might sound like a small thing but it’s not – I cannot tell you how much it means.

“Being an adult is scary enough but when you’ve got no family it’s even harder. Helping Hands has made things so much easier for me.

“I can’t get over how generous and how friendly the team were and how much they cared – it wasn’t just a job to them. They really wanted to help.”

The Care Leaver Covenant is funded by the Department for Education and tackles the disadvantages that young people aged 16 to 25 face when leaving care and helps them to live independently.

It works with a range of organisations in the private, public and voluntary sectors to create tangible opportunities for care leavers, including financial independence and independent living.

Matthew Gordon, Chief Executive of Spectra, delivery partner of the Care Leaver Covenant, said:

“EQUANS was one of the first companies to become a signatory to the Covenant. The work that it is doing to support care leavers is brilliant and this really practical scheme which it has introduced is truly essential.

“Leaving care and setting up home on your own is really difficult without family support. Most care leavers, when they leave care, move into a flat with nothing in it and a scheme like Helping Hands is a lifeline.

“I would strongly encourage other companies in the construction industry to become a signatory and offer similar schemes – by uniting we can transform the lives of care leavers.”

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